Book 2: Once Upon an Ending
Soccer the next day was the worst practice I’d ever had. I was so nervous about my upcoming not-a-date date with Graham that I couldn’t concentrate. I actually kicked the ball into my own team’s goal during a scrimmage. I was freaking out, and it wasn’t even a date! We didn’t even like each other! Right? Right.
Of course, it didn’t help that Sara had told Beth about how I was going to Graham’s house to watch the soccer match on television. Beth thought it was fantastic, and they were both harassing me the entire practice about how cute Graham was and how much we liked each other. The seventh time Sara asked why I hadn’t made a move on him yet, I poured my water bottle onto her head. Did that stop her? No. She just laughed and said that if I didn’t like him, their constant harassment wouldn’t bug me so much.
Was she right? No, no, no. Please don’t let her be right.
And then practice was over.
And then Sara and Beth forced me to blow dry my hair and put on makeup after practice.
And then I was in the car with Graham and his sister.
And then we were alone in his basement, with a pizza and a couple sodas on the table.
I stood on the bottom stair, not quite able to make myself take that extra step into the basement. Graham stood in front of the couch, fiddling with the remote control. He was wearing jeans and boots, and he had a tee shirt on with a faded red oxford shirt unbuttoned. His sleeves were rolled up and he looked casual, but cute.
Really, really cute.
It wasn’t just Beth and Sara trying to convince me.
He was a hottie, and I knew it. But that was different than actually liking him. Noticing he was hot did not mean that I liked him. He was my soccer buddy. That was it. End of story.
So, why couldn’t I make myself get off the stairs and walk into the room?
He finally found the soccer game, turned up the volume and looked over at me, his eyebrows going up in surprise when he saw me still standing on the stairs. “What are you doing over there?”
I cleared my throat. “Um, just hanging out.”
He tossed the remote on the coffee table. “Well, it’s kind of a long game to hang over there whole time.” He flopped down onto the overstuffed denim cushions.
“Yeah, well, I’m comfortable.” Not. But I didn’t know where to sit. Next to him? On the couch? No, it might make him think I liked him, and he’d bail on me. I knew exactly how much he despised dating, and how he avoided any girl who he thought was into him. If he thought I liked him, he would never hang with me again. Ever.
So, where should I sit? In one of the armchairs? But if I sat so far away from him, it might make him think I liked him and was pretending not to, and then he’d bail on me.
Stand. I’d stand. Then he could just think I was whacked and that would be much better.
He opened the pizza box. I watched the steam rise from the cheese and caught a whiff of the bread and the tomato sauce. Um, yum. He pulled a piece free, and I watched the cheese stretch and stretch… then he slid his finger through the cheese and broke the strand and plopped the string of cheese on top of the pizza.
He set it down on a plate next to him on the table and looked at me. “I’m not bringing it over to you.”
Oh, wow. He wanted me to sit next to him on the couch. Did that mean he liked me?
Ack! Of course not! Get a grip, Trisha! “Is this how you treat all your guests? Forcing them to eat at the table? So rude.” I managed to keep a light tone in my voice as I forced myself to step off the stairs. I eased myself down onto the couch, a mere two feet from him. We were less than twenty-four inches apart!
Oh, sure, we’d been so much closer so many times on the soccer field, like when we were going one-on-one and bumping into each other, but I’d never noticed it.
Not like I was noticing it now.
Graham served up a couple pieces for himself, shut the lid, and turned up the volume. “I’m so psyched for this game,” he said. “New England just traded for a new forward who’s awesome. Tonight’s his first start.”
“Super.” Obviously, Graham wasn’t feeling the same buzz from sitting so close to me. Sara was so dead for making me think of him as a guy! I was going to kill her when I saw her tomorrow.
I managed an awkward smile and grabbed my pizza. The tip of the slice dipped downward and a hunk of cheese slipped off the end before I could catch it. It landed with a splat on Graham’s foot.
We both looked down as it slowly slid off the toe of his boot and down the side, coming to a peaceful stop wedged in the off-white carpet fibers of his basement rug. Yeah, I was such the graceful girly girl. Sigh.
“Want it back?” Graham asked.
I giggled. “No, you can have it.”
“Excellent. I was hoping to add a little carpet fuzz to my pizza.” He reached down and picked up the piece, inspected it for a minute, then popped it into his mouth.
“That’s so gross!” I burst out laughing as he proceeded to chew it, wrinkling his nose like he’d bitten into something horrid. “You aren’t really going to eat that!”
He swallowed, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “Of course I ate it. It’s just carpet fuzz.”
I laughed. “You’re disgusting.” Then I sighed as I blew on my pizza before taking another bite. He so wasn’t making the moves on me. No guy trying to impress a girl would eat carpet fuzz pizza.
It was too gross. As if I’d want him to kiss me when he had just eaten dirt…
Oh, no. I’d just put “Graham” and “kiss me” in the same sentence!
That had been a coincidence, right? It wasn’t as if I actually liked him, right? I mean, he hung out with me only because I wasn’t into guys. It would be a total violation of our code of friendship if I started to like him!
I didn’t like him. Did I? I had to know.
I subtly peeked at him. He was leaning forward, watching the television, his hair all spiky, his forearms resting on his thighs.
He glanced at me, winked, and my belly jumped in response even though he turned right back to the television.
No guy had ever made my belly flip before. Not like that.
There was no way to deny it.
I liked Graham.
Oh, God. What had I done?
He let out a whoop and slapped his hands on his thighs. “Did you see that play? We have got to practice that!” He turned to me, and his smile faded. All at once, he had a really wary look on his face, almost like he was afraid of me. It was the same look I’d seen on his face when he’d seen Ashley coming after him at the football game. I’d become his Ashley! “Trisha?” His voice was cautious and a little strained. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Oh, God. He could tell. How could he not? I’d been staring at him for like five minutes, thinking about him kissing me. Think of a reason, Trisha! But all I could think about was how cute he looked with his brow all furrowed. “Um…”
He cleared his throat and stood up. “I’m going to the bathroom. Be back in a minute.” And then he vaulted over the back of the couch and sprinted up the stairs, three at a time.
It was the fastest I’d ever seen him move.
Because he was running away from me.
Argh! This was horrible!
I yanked out my cell phone and dialed Beth. She answered on the first ring. “How’s the date?”
“Horrible!” I filled her in on what happened, whispering as fast as I could, watching the stairs, and listening for Graham to come back. “What should I do? He’s going to pull the plug on soccer, I know it!”
“Hang on.” I heard her and Sara talking, but their voices were muffled, as if she’d covered the phone.
I tapped my foot and flinched at each creak in the house. “Hurry up,” I hissed.
Finally, Beth came back on. “You have to go into Emergency Recovery Mode.”
Not helpful! “What’s that?”
“Give him a good reason for the strange look on your face, then talk about soccer. Big time. Make him think he misread it. We’ll do damage control when we meet up tomorrow. Got it?”
The door to the basement opened, and I slammed my phone shut and shoved it in my pocket. I wiped my palms on my jeans as Graham walked down the stairs, a whole lot slower than he’d gone up.
God, this was so embarrassing.
I took a deep breath, then flopped back on the couch. “Did you bring ice?”
He looked at me and paused on the stairs. “Ice? Why?”
“I burned the roof of my mouth on the cheese. It’s killing me.” I rolled my eyes. “Sorry I wigged you out a second ago. I was trying to assess the damage to see whether I needed to go to the emergency room, plus I was trying to figure out how to blame you for it. Not that it worked,” I forced a giggle. “I’m the only idiot around here, and unless you’ve got ice, I’m thinking you need to call an ambulance.”
“My fault? Not even.” Some of the tension left his shoulders and he resumed walking toward me, jumping over the bottom two stairs. “The soda’s cold. Will that work?”
“Yeah, good idea.” I grabbed a can of diet soda and flicked it open. “So, do you have paper and a pen? I want to take some notes tonight.” I took a gulp.
He looked surprised. “Really?”
“Are you kidding?” I injected an impressive amount of excitement into my voice and set the can back on the table. “I’m so pumped for this, and I don’t want to miss anything.” I clenched my fists and didn’t have to fake my determination. “I’m going to make varsity, Graham. No matter what.”
He finally gave me a real smile. “You bet you will.”
I nodded. “Now that we’ve both acknowledged how I’m always right, stop talking so I can concentrate on the game.” I rolled my eyes. “Boys just talk and talk. Never shut up. How’s a girl supposed to watch a game, huh?”
He laughed and leaned back against the couch, completely relaxed. I could tell that things were right between us again.
Or as right as they could be, given that I now realized I liked him, and I could never tell him, admit it, or apparently even think about it, ever, ever again.
Because it was going to be so easy to shut off my brain like that.
It had to be, because if I screwed this up, I was going to lose everything.